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Source: Marketing Daily article by Tanya Gazdik Irwin

Horses and their owners continue to be an essential component of the U.S. pet market, according to a report from Packaged Facts.

Despite the costs of ownership and the proliferation of unwanted horses, sales in the U.S. equine market reached $23 billion in 2013.

Although equine market sales have been declining in recent years, the market appears to have reached a plateau, and sales should begin to level out, according to Shannon Brown, Packaged Facts analyst and author of the report.

"The struggling economy has been the biggest factor affecting this market, which has manifested in both the number of horses in the U.S. in general (breeders don't breed horses that they can't sell or feed), and the number of horse owners (horses require a huge financial investment in terms of feed and care)," Brown tells Marketing Daily. "Because economic conditions have been improving, and because those horse owners that remain are passionate about their horses, conditions look favorable for slow recovery."

Marketers should note that horse owners are receptive to Internet marketing, blogger opinions, and online peer reviews, Brown says.

For many horse product marketers, the best promoters of their products are their customers. Opening up Web sites for consumer comments, via a blog or other audience-participation mechanism, allows other customers to obtain unbiased feedback about the products.

In addition, marketers can encourage brand communities through actively recruiting customers to participate in different challenges or contests, or even by asking for them to submit testimonials of how they use the products and how their horses have benefited.

The horse industry has its own marketable celebrities. These are successful riders and trainers who have built names for themselves throughout the years as reliable sources of information about horse care.

Using a film star to endorse horse feed will not have quite the same impact as having a rodeo star who eats, sleeps and breathes horses and says a particular feed is the only one he uses. Consequently, the names used to endorse horse products may not be familiar to the average consumer, but in the horse market these names are worth their weight in gold.

One of the areas of opportunity in this market includes the trend toward natural horsemanship, Brown says.

"Although I don't anticipate that marketers who don't currently offer equine products will suddenly decide to expand into this market as a result, there is definite opportunity for marketers currently in the space to shift gears and bit and consider either revamping existing products or introducing new products that fit the requirements of this type of horse ownership/training," Brown says. "Across the board in CPG markets, consumers are increasingly gravitating towards products that they perceive to be better for them (or in this case, their pets), and the equine market is no exception."